TIME

Turns Out Now Is a Brilliant Time to Stop Working

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Cavan Images—Getty Images

Retirees are feeling better about their finances than they have in years. The rising stock market is one reason. But seniors also have a sense that interest rates will finally move higher and make income easier to secure.

Retirees are feeling more confident about their future than they have in years, new data show. Much of the optimism flows from last year’s heady stock market gains. But the prospect of higher bond yields, a popular source of income, is also part of the cheerier outlook.

Investors of all stripes are feeling more upbeat. A Wells Fargo and Gallup index measuring investor confidence jumped 48% in the first quarter, approaching levels last seen before the budget fiasco and partial government shutdown last summer. Most of the gain is attributed to a seven-fold surge in retiree confidence. Non-retiree optimism rose less than 10%.

Some 74% of retirees and pre-retirees say they feel positive or very positive about stocks, up from 62% a year ago, according to a survey by Ignites Retirement Research. Retirees in this survey also registered more optimism than those still at work.

The surge in hope follows a year in which the S&P 500 returned 32%, one of the best calendar-year gains in modern history. That gain repaired a lot of portfolio damage from the recession; it also lifted the spirits of retirees relying on dividend-paying stocks for income. It was the first reading of the Wells Fargo/Gallup index in nearly two years where retirees expressed more hope than non-retirees.

In another sign of retiree confidence, a study from CareerBuilder.com found that the percentage of seniors opting to postpone retirement is declining. Among workers 60 and older, 58% now say they will delay retirement—down from 61% who planned to delay retirement a year earlier. A greater percentage of workers also expect to retire within four years and a smaller percentage now say they will never be able to retire.

Some of the new optimism owes to the prospect of higher bond yields, pollsters say. Retirees have a growing feeling that interest rates will rise this year, and with that they will find it easier to secure income from short-term bonds, bank CDs, annuities and other fixed-income vehicles. That’s a surprising development because so far interest rates have not risen. In fact, after a short, sharp burst higher last spring rates have declined again, making income more difficult—not easier—to find.

One dollar of guaranteed retirement income at age 65, purchased today by someone who is 60, would cost $16.65, according BlackRock’s Cori index. That’s up from a cost of $15.50 for $1 of income last August. Put another way: Last August, $1 million would have secured $64,516 of annual income for a 60-year-old retiring in five years. Today, it secures just $$60,060 of annual income.

Interest rate moves are the biggest factor in this calculation. Retirees are putting a lot of faith in something that has yet to materialize. Still, as the Fed winds down its stimulus package and the economy continues to recover, counting on higher rates and easier income would seem to make sense.

TIME

The Real Debt Crisis We Aren’t Talking About

San Jose Is Wealthiest City In Nation
San Jose, California Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

I spent the day in San Jose, California yesterday, reporting on the city’s effort’s to come to grips with what Mayor Chuck Reed calls a “crisis” in the pension system that threatens the future of the town. At first sight, it seems strange that a town full of techies and which is home to companies like eBay and Adobe can’t afford to fill potholes or keep local libraries open full-time. But gold-plated city pensions are, according to the Mayor, the chief reason that this is the case. And the cut backs that are being made to afford them may actually result in greater economic bifurcation in the city, and higher tax rates for poor and middle class taxpayers, many of whom have little retirement savings themselves.

I’ll be blogging more about what’s happening on the ground in San Jose later in the week. But first, a bit of background on the real debt crisis in this country, the one that we haven’t talked about seriously yet, let alone come to terms with—the retirement crisis. The key stat you need to know: the median household retirement savings for all workers between the ages of 55 to 64 is $120,000. That works out to about $625 a month. A full one-third of the workforce aged 45 to 54 has saved nothing at all for retirement. At a time when social security benefits are being paired back, public pensions are being restructured en mass, and housing growth is flat (only the top 10 markets in the country are predicted to have any significant price increases in the next 15 years), this is a looming iceberg of a crisis.

Declining workforce participation numbers show how quickly the boomers are moving out of work, either by choice or force, and into a retirement in which more than half of them won’t match even 70 percent of their previous income levels. That has implications for everything from over U.S. consumption and GDP growth, to politics in the 2014 Congressional elections and the 2016 Presidential elections, in which boomers will increasingly face off against everyone else for a shrinking piece of the federal pie. (They will likely continue to fight necessary entitlement reform in large part because social security is the only thing most will have for retirement.)

The crisis can be split into two parts. First, the public pensions debacle, which involves only 10 percent of the American workforce, but has economic implications far beyond that, as pension entitlements tank entire cities, like Detroit. Second, there’s the private crisis—only 55 percent of private sector workers in America have access to any kind of formal savings plan, like a 401K. With large companies paring back benefits, and most job creation coming from small- and middle-sized companies that can’t or won’t offer such benefits, the stats will likely get worse in the next few years. California is in many ways ground zero for both the public and private portions of the crisis. Aside from Detroit, the largest public pension fights and biggest municipal bankruptcies have been in places like Stockton, Vallejo, and San Bernardino. Meanwhile, the state also has more retirees, young people without benefits, poor people, immigrants and small- or middle- sized companies than most states, meaning that it hits all the red buttons in terms of citizens who are most at risk in terms of retirement security.

Yet it’s also at the center of the most innovative new proposals about how to fix the crisis. San Jose Mayor Reed is pushing pension reform that would keep benefits that workers have earned but allow changes to benefits earned in the future, and force local politicians to raise a red flag if public pensions are at risk of being under-funded. (The failure to do that, and take responsibility early on, is a key reason many cities have gone bankrupt.)

Meanwhile, in the private sphere, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, developed by state senator Kevin de Leon, into law last year. This plan, which would be a state-run defined benefit program guaranteeing a minimum level of income for any private sector worker, will require everyone to put 3 percent of their income into a super conservative indexed fund. The idea would be to create a kind of substitute or add-on for social security. It’s getting huge push back from the financial industry (which doesn’t want to lose fees) as well as many conservative state politicians. But it’s already being copied in New York and Maryland. Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut and even Arizona are taking consultation on similar plans.

If successful, it would mark a sea change in the way we’ve thought about retirement, which everyone admits isn’t working. It would also mean a move back to a new kind of state-run program, very different from the huge entitlement systems of the past, but also different from the do-it-yourself, market knows best ethos of the 401K society that has left most people bereft. I will visit a variety of communities in California this week that reflect different aspects of the retirement crisis – look out for my blogs from San Jose, Stockton and L.A.

MONEY Investing

401(k) Advice Could Come At a Cost

Investing for retirement can be confusing, but your employer's 'free' 401(k) advice may come at a price.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans are getting better, but they’ve still got plenty of weak spots.

MONEY looked at six holes you might see in your 401(k) plan, and some fixes you can make to address them. Below, see another way your retirement plan might be letting you down — with handholding that isn’t free.

Leak No. 3: Plans are offering more advice but…

Companies understand that most Americans are confused about investing for retirement. Roughly half of large plans now offer access to some type of investment management, up from 11% in 2007, according to Hewitt. These services don’t simply tee up suggestions on what to do with your account. They pick funds for you and adjust your portfolio automatically.

Vanguard, one of the largest 401(k) providers — largely by improving participants’ stock and bond mix. In reality, though, there are no guarantees. Managed accounts in Vanguard’s plans returned just 1.9% a year on average between 2007 and 2012, vs. 2.3% for DIY participants.

Part of the problem: Handholding isn’t free. In some company plans these add-ons will cost as much as 1% or more of your assets a year, eliminating most or all of the potential advantage. The most popular providers, Financial Engines and Morningstar’s Retirement Manager program, charge about half that or less.

Still, those costs are on top of the investment fees you’re paying for the underlying funds, which could run you another half or full percentage point — dragging down your returns.

WHAT TO DO

In your thirties and forties: All the advice you may need is guidance on how much to save (answer: shoot for 15%) and a target-date fund, says Lori Lucas, defined-contribution practice leader at the investment consulting firm Callan.

Target-date funds — all-in-one portfolios that expose you to stocks and bonds and that automatically grow more conservative over time — are a form of professional management available in two-thirds of plans.

In your fifties and beyond: At this stage, you’ve accumulated a sizable sum and the idea of handing over investment decisions to a pro may not sound bad.

“This is especially true for near retirees,” says Lucas. “You are making some complex decisions that are both major and irreversible.”

Related: Should I delay my retirement?

The one in four workers 56 to 65 who held more than 90% of their 401(k)s in equities heading into the financial crisis certainly could have used such help. Don’t expect miracles, though. Hewitt found that on average investors who sought help performed about the same as investors who were on their own in 2008. They did, however, perform better in 2009 when stocks bounced back.

Is your 401(k) plan letting you down?

Send a letter to the editor to money_letters@moneymail.com.

 

TIME Retirement

Inflation? Hooey, but You Still Need Protection in Retirement

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Just as economists and bond traders missed the reversal from inflation to disinflation three decades ago, a new generation lulled into a new reality will miss it again when consumer prices push higher in a sustained way.

Betting on the return of inflation has been a fool’s game for more than two decades. But that doesn’t mean inflation has been whipped forever, and even a moderate sustained rise in consumer prices can have devastating impact on unprepared retirees.

Consider that at just 2.5% inflation, prices would double (and your buying power would be cut in half) over a 28-year retirement. At 4%, prices would triple over that period and your buying power would fall by two-thirds. This is brutal math for any retiree in good health and living on a fixed income.

Economists like Paul Krugman at the New York Times argue there is little to fear. He believes a wrongheaded inflation obsession, chiefly among policymakers, is holding back the economic recovery. Certainly, inflation has been tame; there hasn’t been an annual reading over 4% since 1991 and most readings have been below 3%. Last year came in at just 1.5%, sparking more worries about falling prices than about rising prices.

But others argue that just as a generation of economists and bondholders accustomed to soaring inflation during the 1970s were caught off guard by 25 years of disinflation, today’s generation similarly will be caught off guard by a reversal—and the return of more rapidly rising prices. As the noted economist David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff recently wrote:

“We have an entirely new crew of bond traders on the desks, the sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of the old guard, who have only known disinflation, deflation, lower (minuscule) bond yields and radical Fed easing cycles. That is all they have known for their entire professional lives. Their elders didn’t see the great deflation coming, and the offspring don’t see the remote prospect of a moderately higher inflation environment coming at any time on the forecasting horizon.”

To be clear, almost no one is suggesting anything like the 1970s is in store for as far as the eye can see. But health care costs are rising a little faster, rents are going up, and labor may at last be gaining some leverage on wages in the improving economy—all potential harbingers of higher inflation down the road.

“This should scare the hell out of those of us who are retired and living on (at least partly) fixed incomes,” writes the economist Lewis Mandell for PBS. Just to be safe, you may want to inflation protect your income. Certain assets like gold and real estate serve as an inflation hedge but come with drawbacks. Gold produces no income; real estate can be fickle and difficult to sell. Happily, Social Security benefits rise along with consumer prices. So that portion of your security blanket is fine. But almost no other income-oriented investment, including most traditional pensions, automatically adjusts for inflation.

Protecting retirement income is not cheap. Mandell estimates that an immediate fixed annuity with an inflation adjustment initially generates about a third less income than one without an adjustment. So you don’t want to over do it. Still, if you can afford to sacrifice some income now such an annuity with a portion of your savings may offer peace of mind.

Another way to protect your retirement income from inflation is through Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, better known as TIPS. These T-bonds adjust for rising consumer prices over the life of the bond, which may go out 30 years. They aren’t perfect, or cheap. But TIPS may afford the best income protection you’ll find.

Let’s say you want to protect $10,000 of annual income for the next 30 years. According to Mandell’s calculations, if inflation averages 2% over that period an investment of $52,257 in TIPS would offset any purchasing power loss due to inflation. If inflation over that period hewed to the 100-year average of 3.43% you’d need $79,553 in TIPS. At 4%, you’d need $88,703.

This exercise helps make clear the impact even modest inflation can have on your ability to pay for things with a fixed income over many years. Serious inflation probably isn’t in the cards anytime soon. But with a long runway still ahead, young retirees are at risk of losing their lifestyle unless they protect at least some of their income from the effects of inflation.

TIME olympics

Plushenko’s Retirement Is Proof He Should Have Quit Before Sochi

Sochi Olympics Figure Skating
Evgeni Plushenko of Russia waves to spectators after he pulled out of the men's short program figure skating competition due to illness at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Ivan Sekretarev—AP

The iconic Russian figure skater, hobbled by injuries, should have given way to a younger generation before the Sochi Olympics began

After his aborted performance on Thursday—and the subsequent announcement of his retirement—it became all too clear that Evgeni Plushenko should have passed the torch to a younger skater before the Sochi Olympics commenced. For nearly a decade, the flamboyant figure skater has dominated the sport in Russia. At the age of 31, which is right around retirement age for an Olympic figure skater, he decided to try his Olympic luck for the third time despite a recent spinal surgery. It worked out well for him on Sunday, when he won a gold medal along with nine of his teammates in Sochi as part of the team figure skating competition. But four days later, when it came time for him to perform in the men’s singles, he skated up to the judges booth after a warm-up and told them he couldn’t go on. With that, Team Russia’s chances of a gold dropped to zero in the event where it has long been dominant.

As TIME reported earlier this week, Plushenko’s back was troubling him toward the end of his solo performance at Sunday’s team event. But he and his coaches boldly decided to carry on. “There are no healthy athletes in the major leagues,” said his coach, Alexei Mishin. “Everybody hurts.” Plushenko even suggested that he might compete in the next Winter Games four years from now.

That sounded almost delusional. On the strength of his remaining talents, it had been hard for him even to make it into these Olympics. He lost a key qualifying round in December to a young upstart named Maxim Kovtun, who is 12 years younger than Plushenko and approaching his prime. But the veteran wouldn’t give up. He refused to compete in the last qualifying round for Sochi, saying that he was too busy training for the Olympics, and he used his celebrity status in Russia to help lobby for another shot. After much debate in the press, he got it.

The Russian figure skating association allowed him to dance a “control run” for a committee of skating experts less than three weeks before the Games. Although that performance was never shown to the public or the press, the committee ruled that it was enough to give Plushenko a ticket to Sochi.

That now looks to have been a mistake. The pain that began bothering him during the team event on Sunday never went away, his coach said on Thursday. Then things got worse. The day before the singles event, Plushenko took a heavy fall during training. “The pain didn’t let up in the morning,” Mishin told a Russian newspaper. “We took medication, but it didn’t help.”

Russia, which has no replacement for him in the men’s short program, is now out of that contest, which should have offered one of its best chances for another gold. And they needed it. A week into the Games, Russia has only two golds and stands in seventh place in the overall medals tally, behind Switzerland. Plushenko had a chance to turn that around, but the chances of a younger skater would clearly have been better.

TIME Personal Finance

Knowing Your Net Worth Can Help You Plan

Calculating your net value will help you plan your future more productively.
Calculating your net value will help you plan your future more productively. David Emmite—Getty Images

Calculating your net worth is easy, and a valuable exercise. Here's how.

Your boss doesn’t know your value, right? But do you even know it? Most people have never taken the time to figure their net worth even though it’s a fairly simple calculation. Why not take stock now? The New Year is still full of promise.

Your net worth is what you’d have left after selling everything, paying the bills and settling all debts. Think of it as your liquidation value. The number is of keen interest to heirs trying to understand what will be theirs. But it’s useful for you as well. Calculated annually, your net worth provides the clearest picture of whether you are getting ahead. It helps gauge when you might retire and gives a roadmap to where you are losing or gaining value. That makes it easier to adjust and meet your goals.

Say, for example, your goal is to retire with $1 million. But during the worst two years of the recession your net worth—your total liquid value—went from $380,000 to $250,000. You’d understand right away that you need to adjust. Net worth hits home in a more visceral way than, say, looking only at a 401(k) statement that provides only part of the picture.

To figure your net worth you need two sheets of paper, one of them labeled assets and the other labeled liabilities. You want to add all assets and subtract all liabilities, reducing your life thus far to a single number. You can find online calculators to help. You can also see how you stack up against people your age and at your income level. For example, the median 55-year-old has a net worth of $180,125; the median net worth of households earning $75,000 a year is $301,475, according to Nielsen Claritas.

Start with assets, including retirement savings, checking and savings account balances, bonds or annuities, the total value of any stock holdings, your home and automobiles. To really fine-tune the figure include artwork, jewelry, furniture and other possessions that for most people do not move the needle a great deal. Put a value on each of these things and add them.

On the liabilities sheet, list all credit card balances, personal loans, student loans, auto loans and mortgages. Then add those and subtract it from the figure you got on the assets sheet. Voila. You now know what you are worth on paper. Watching this number from year to year shows how new debts and all spending subtract from your net worth, while general thrift, retired debts, and investments that rise pad your net worth.

The figure is not perfect. Figuring your net worth is especially difficult if you own a small business, which may be difficult to value. If you are young and in a great career your net worth might be negative—but that’s okay. Once those college loans are paid off and you get a few raises that can turn around quickly. Likewise, if your net worth takes a dip because the stock market or housing market fell, that’s not so terrible assuming you can hold on for the recovery. But it’s always good to know where you stand.

TIME Retirement

The Problem With President Obama’s ‘MyRA’ Savings Accounts

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Getty Images

Expanding savings opportunities makes sense. But a big issue is whether people have the means to use them.

To better enable Americans to save for retirement, President Obama said he would order a new “starter” savings plan called MyRA geared at low-income households. It’s a fine idea. But as with any personal savings account, you must be able to fund it for it to matter. That may be the biggest problem with the program.

Little is known about these new accounts. They would function like a Roth IRA, allowing savers to put in after-tax money that would then grow tax-free. They’d be available through your employer to anyone who does not have an individual retirement account or work for a company that offers a traditional pension or 401(k) plan. That comes to about 39 million households.

The big advantage is that you could open a MyRA with as little as $25 and make contributions of as little as $5, creating a regular savings opportunity that most low-income households have never had. Typically, plan administrators require $1,000 or more to open an account. MyRAs would also benefit from a no-fee structure that does not eat away at savings.

Your MyRA would also enjoy a government guarantee against loss of principal. The downside is that your money would be funneled into low-yielding Treasury securities and have little potential to grow enough to make a big dent in your personal retirement savings crisis—or that of the nation as a whole—until you have accumulated enough to roll it into a regular IRA where you might benefit from investments with greater growth potential.

Offering low-income households a place to save doesn’t really fix the big problem: they still must have the money and the discipline to take advantage. More than half of workers have less than $25,000 in savings and 28% has less than $1,000 in savings, reports the Employee Benefits Research Institute. And with the MyRA, you could take money out anytime without penalty. That would be awfully tempting the first time money gets tight.

The retirement savings plan represents an important first step,” says Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance. Still, she says, “Most Americans are not able to plan for their futures because they are trying to deal with their most immediate needs, like paying their rent and keeping their lights on.”

The new accounts call to mind the so-called “catch-up” provision enabling savers past age 50 to put away an extra $5,500 in their 401(k) each year. That’s a fine idea too, but since its adoption in 2001 only the relatively well to do have used it. Let’s face it: Not many folks have an extra $5,500 lying around.

Only 13% of those eligible have made the extra contributions, according to an analysis of data provided by Fidelity Investments. That’s largely because regardless of age almost no one even contributes the maximum $17,500—already a lot of money to take out of your budget each year. For the vast majority, the extra $5,500 has proven to be irrelevant, concludes the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

So let’s not pretend that MyRAs will save our collective retirement dreams. They give more people more opportunity to save, and you cannot argue with that. But for these accounts to make a real difference, the folks they are meant to help most will need extraordinary willpower.

MONEY Investing

Winning at Investing Made Simple

Served on a silver platter: the right portfolio strategy and investing well for retirement. illustration: tavis coburn

Here are just a few of the ways Wall Street pros try to eke out an edge in the market. You can’t do any of them:

With a subscription to the Bloomberg online news service (price: about $20,000 a year), traders can instantly see anything from the location of oil tankers around the globe to supply-chain maps of a company’s vendors and customers.

Hedge fund managers who invest in drug and technology companies tap into “expert networks” of executives and scientists paid for their specialized knowledge. In some cases, it’s been charged, traders have also illegally gotten inside information through these contacts.

Half of stock trades are made by automated “high-frequency” programs; it takes 7/10,000ths of a second to buy or sell on the New York Stock Exchange, says the Tabb Group, down from a horse-and-buggy 10 seconds eight years ago.

You can’t get a jump on this crowd. You can’t even compete with them. Chances are, the professional managers you hire via a mutual fund, for 1% of assets or more per year, won’t be able to stay ahead either.

In October, Ray Dalio, one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the world, told a conference audience that “going forward, most investors are not going to be able to produce alpha.” “Alpha” is finance jargon for outperforming the market after accounting for risk. In truth, the search for alpha has always been something of a snipe hunt; the word was first used in a 1967 article that showed that most mutual funds didn’t deliver it, especially after subtracting fees.

Two things have changed since then: More pros admit the alpha game is over, and perhaps more important for you, investing has never been better for those willing to stop playing. In the words of Tadas Viskanta, editor of the finance blog Abnormal Returns, there’s wisdom in reaching for “investment mediocrity.”

Today, just as in 1967, most professionals can’t beat an index that tracks the stock market. “The paradox,” says Viskanta, “is that the less effort you put in, the better off you are.” And recently, he notes, perfect mediocrity has grown more attainable, as index-based investing has moved steadily closer to free.

For as little as 0.04% of assets per year — that’s $4 for every $10,000 you’ve invested — and often with no broker commission, you can buy an exchange-traded fund, or ETF, that follows most of the U.S. stock market and delivers its return.

This year’s Investor’s Guide starts from the idea that index funds and a buy-and-hold stance should be the default approach for long-term wealth builders. With that in mind, MONEY has rebuilt our basic investing tool set: Our list of recommended funds is now the MONEY 50, streamlined from 70. Not all the funds are index trackers, but the core choices are low-cost, highly diversified portfolios for the long run. For many investors, a portfolio balanced among one broad U.S. stock fund, an international fund, and one or two bond funds is all you need. The MONEY 50 makes building that portfolio easy.

Yet even if you decide to stick with a simplified strategy, that doesn’t mean every investment puzzle you’ll face has been solved. The stories in this guide will help you think through your approach to the three biggest questions you still face as you save for retirement.

Question No. 1: Buy and hold what exactly?

You can build a simple portfolio for any level of risk. Stretching for high returns? You could put all your money in the Schwab U.S. Broad Market SCHWAB STRATEGIC T US BROAD MKT ETF SCHB 1.3901% , or crank up risk and return potential further by adding funds like Vanguard Small-Cap VANGUARD INDEX FDS VANGUARD SMALL-CAP ETF VB 1.4466% or Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets VANGUARD INTL EQUI FTSE EMERGING MARKETS VWO 0.1821% . Need safety? Stash more in Vanguard Total Bond Market VANGUARD BD IDX FD TOTAL BOND MARKET BND -0.0542% or iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ISHARES BARCLAYS TIPS BOND FUND TIP -0.1228% to add inflation protection.

These funds make security selection automatic, but they don’t help at all with the question of how much risk you want to take. The standard rule of thumb says you should start out with a high allocation to equities and gradually “glide” that down as you age. These days fund companies often focus less on their stock-picking prowess and more on designing all-in-one “target date” funds that do this asset allocating for you. Yet as you’ll see in “How much should you hold in stocks?,” the theory and practice of lifetime asset allocation are all over the map.

Question No. 2: What if high stock and bond returns are really over?

If you’re a just-own-the-market purist, you don’t ask if stocks are cheap or expensive. You assume it’s too hard to outwit the hive-mind intelligence of the crowd. Over the short run that’s almost certainly true. But there’s evidence that the price of stocks relative to measures of their value like earnings and assets can provide a clue about returns over the course of a decade.

Stocks are now priced at about 21 times the five-year average of their earnings. According to research from the Leuthold Group advisory firm, when the market’s price-to-earnings ratio is between 20 and 25, over the next 10 years stocks have delivered an annualized return of only 3% after accounting for inflation.

Combine that with a gloomy outlook for bonds. Current yields are an indicator of future returns, and with the 10-year Treasury at 2.8%, you may be lucky to carve out 1% after inflation. “Stocks, Bonds? In 2014, Think Cash,” will help you think through your strategy so that you can thrive in a world where today’s high-asset prices could repress tomorrow’s returns.

Question No. 3: Can I ever do better?

Maybe. Even some advocates of index investing say there may be ways to outperform. But the extra bump doesn’t come from tearing into company balance sheets or, as famed Fidelity manager Peter Lynch used to say, “buying what you know.” It comes from “tilting” a portfolio of hundreds of securities to take advantage of anomalies that have shown up in historical stock returns.

One is the value effect, the tendency of stocks with low prices relative to their earnings or asset value to outperform over time. Likewise, there seems to be a small-company premium. For a shot at earning these boosts, you don’t buy a portfolio of 40 or 50 small-caps or bargain stocks. Instead, you buy an index or index-like fund that gives more weight to such shares.

You’ll need nerve: Larry Swedroe of Buckingham Asset Management, who recommends tilting, says the strategy trailed the S&P 500 badly in the late 1990s; in the past decade, though, an index of small value stocks earned an extra 2% annualized. “You have to be able to live through it,” he says.

“The New Faces of Stock Picking” profiles a pioneer in low-cost, tilted portfolios as well as other quantitatively driven thinkers searching for ways investors can carve out advantages. Instead of hunting for the inside scoop, they crunch data and use insights into investors’ behavioral blind spots. A caution: Now that star fund managers have faded, Wall Street is cranking out lots of ETFs. For every robust new idea, there’s likely to be a dozen more that are nothing but savvy marketing tied to a hot short-term trend.

Investing may be simple now, but you’ll still need the discipline not to chase the latest market beater, plus the patience to stick to a long-term strategy even when it’s out of favor. Simple? Yes, but not always easy.

OWN THE WORLD, FOR NEXT TO NOTHING

You can build a solid portfolio with just three investments. Here are examples using ETFs and index mutual funds:

The ETF route:

Schwab U.S. Aggregate Bond SCHWAB STRATEGIC T US AGGREGATE BD ETF SCHZ -0.0191% : 40%
Schwab U.S. Broad Market: SCHWAB STRATEGIC T US BROAD MKT ETF SCHB 1.3901% 40%
Schwab International Equity: SCHWAB STRATEGIC T INTL EQUITY ETF SCHF 0.879% 20%

The index fund route:

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index: VANGUARD INDEX FDS TOTAL STK MARKET PORTFOLIO VTSMX 0.2359% 40%
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index: VANGUARD BD IDX FD TOTAL BOND MARKET BND -0.0542% 40%
Vanguard Tax Managed International VANGUARD TAX MANAG DEVELOPED MKTS INDEX FD INV VDVIX 0.7487% : 20%

Either way you go, your costs will be far, far less than most active fund managers charge…

Annual fee:

ETF portfolio: 0.05%
Index fund portfolio: 0.08%
Three average active funds: 1.22%

… and you’ll be diversified across the globe.

Number of stocks:

ETF portfolio: 3,144
Index fund portfolio: 4,823
Three average active funds: 289

SOURCE: Morningstar

MONEY health insurance

What’s Next for Retiree Health Care

Fewer companies are offering retiree health care benefits. Even if you get benefits from a former boss, you'll see some changes. Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to getting health coverage from your old boss, the landscape is changing fast, and not just for early retirees.

Companies have been cutting back on retiree health benefits for years. Indeed, the latest survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that among large firms with employee health coverage, just 28% offer some form of retiree benefits, down from 66% in 1988. Among smaller firms, help is even scarcer.

Disappearing corporate benefits is one reason the new public exchanges created by Obamacare will be such a boon to early retirees. But even for seniors who still get help from a former boss, change is afoot, no matter your age.

Here’s what to watch for:

Early retirees: If the public exchanges succeed, firms that offer pre-Medicare coverage may give those ex-workers funds to buy a policy on one, says Tricia Neuman, director of KFF’s Program on Medicare Policy. Employers are taking a wait-and-see approach, but that could change fast.

Retirees 65 and up: About a third of Medicare recipients have supplemental coverage from a former employer, says Neuman, and some of them are already seeing changes. Several major companies, recently IBM and Time Warner (MONEY’s parent company), are shifting retirees 65 and older from company-run plans to private exchanges operated by benefit consultants and insurance brokers.

On a private exchange, you’ll be able to pick supplemental Medicare coverage from a host of options, using funds your employer contributes to a tax-free health-reimbursement arrangement, or HRA.

For now, companies making this shift aren’t necessarily cutting back on how much they’re spending on your health care, says Paul Fronstin, a senior research associate at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (though IBM capped its contribution years ago). But how you’ll fare over time will depend on the employer subsidy keeping up with premium hikes, says John Grosso, health care actuary at Aon Hewitt. If not, you’ll pay more.

You or your parents may leap at the chance for more choices, or be overwhelmed by the sign-up process. It’s similar to open enrollment, but with potentially more options.

“Make use of all the tools out there,” says Sandy Ageloff, Southwest health and group benefits leader for Towers Watson, which owns Extend Health, the biggest private exchange. Tools include phone counseling at the exchange; the typical initial call runs about 80 minutes, Ageloff says.

MONEY early retirement

Planning To Retire Early? A Second Paycheck Comes In Handy

In the 1980s, Kevin Howard started buying houses, fixing them up, and renting them out. That rental income let him leave his job at 55. Sam Comen

No question, picking up a part-time gig after you walk away from 9-to-5 work will ease the pressure on your finances. And that’s the plan for many: Three-quarters of workers believe they will have a job in retirement, a May Gallup poll found.

It’s not just about the money. In a survey of 44- to 70-year-olds by the second-act job site Encore.org, a third of those who want to work part-time cited enjoyment as the reason.

But reality doesn’t match expectations. In EBRI’s 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey, only 25% of retirees report ever having worked for pay after calling it a career.

Would-be retirees are often unrealistic about landing meaningful part-time work, says Colorado planner Leitz. Lining up a 15- to 20-hour-a-week job sounds great, but there aren’t too many stimulating and well-paying jobs in professional fields that allow that. “Flexibility is great for you, but not really for employers,” says Leitz.

What to do

Go for projects, not a job. Even when firms don’t want a 20-hour-a-week senior staffer, they still may have high-level work that needs to get done. Set yourself up to be the consultant they hire, says Dick Dawson of CareerCurve, a coaching firm for 55-plus workers.

Start where you’re known: your old workplace and your network. Keep going to industry events and seek out contractors who do similar work and may hear of jobs they can’t take. Visit elance.com and peopleperhour.com, which match employers with freelancers in fields such as marketing, writing, and design.

Make your hobby pay. Working doesn’t have to mean sticking with the same career. Before retiring at 58, Susan Morgan Hoth was a high school teacher in Richmond who spent summers painting silk scarves. As she approached retirement, she started selling her scarves online through sites like Etsy.

Her business nets about $4,000 a year, enough to let Hoth, now 64, splurge more. “It helps me afford things I would not spend money on otherwise,” she says.

Similarly, you might find that a part-time retail job that matches your interests — in a golf shop, say, or a health-food store — is all you need to pad your income. Discounts on greens fees or organic granola are an added bonus.

Don’t get too comfortable. A lot can happen over 40 years, from a financial pinch to boredom. So even if you don’t work out of the gate, keep yourself employable. That means maintaining professional credentials, following changes in your industry, and staying in touch with former colleagues.

Think way ahead. Many early retirees plant the seeds for a second paycheck well before retirement. One way to do that is by investing in rental real estate. Hearts & Wallets found that 27% of those who successfully retired before 62 went that route.

Rental income is what made it possible for Kevin Howard, 57, to leave his full-time job as a procurement manager for Boeing two years ago. In the mid-1980s he began rehabbing and renting out houses. The properties — three in Seattle, where he lives, and one in his former hometown of Houston — provide half his annual $140,000 income (the rest is a pension and savings).

Still, “I don’t want to fix plumbing as I get older,” he says. He plans to sell his Houston house soon and the others within five years.

Now, instead of working on aerospace projects, Howard is learning to play the standing bass. He’s clocked 14,000 miles in 26 states on his motorcycle, and takes his VW Vanagon camper to blues festivals.

“I worked for 30 years,” Howard says. “I want another 30 years doing the things I want to do.”

MORE: New rules for early retirement

Rule 1: Early retirees: Don’t fear losing your health insurance

Rule 2: Getting ready to retire? Save more, spend less

Rule 3: Use your home to boost retirement savings

Rule 4: Get the first decade of retirement right

 

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